Best Practices for Combining Action Learning with other Leadership Development Programming


While Action Learning (AL) is sometimes used as the primary element in a leadership development (LD) program is combined , more typically, with a suite of other LD methods. Most of these methods, usually created as stand-alone developmental strategies, are frequently linked or combined to create a hybrid LD program. Here’s how to ensure that the resulting process is seamless and engaging for participants rather than being experienced as a disjointed, hodgepodge of disparate LD tools.

  1. Make sure that the program elements build upon each other. For instance, start with individual skills, then add team skills, and finally provide the organizational context to practice these individual and team skills. A great way to provide participants with a starting point for building individual leadership skills is to provide pre-program feedback via a 360 degree feedback process. Similarly, teaming exercises or training programs can be used to introduce participants to basic team concepts and dynamics. Individual and teaming skills developed in earlier program elements can then be leveraged to great advantage during a subsequent AL process.
  2. Make sure that participants understand the organization’s strategic priorities. Also make sure that they have a good understanding of how the various parts of the organization are linked along with the key players in the system. This information will be critical for the success of any AL element in the program. It is often the case that hi-potential leaders only have a comprehensive understanding of their own organization and have experienced other business units as competitors for scarce organizational resources.
  3. Provide coaching and feedback regarding leadership skills typically not addressed in AL. Although AL provides great experience and learning about how to work effectively as a team to tackle and solve critical, urgent, and complex problems, there are other important  leadership skills that can be addressed only indirectly through AL. For instance, it is difficult to make great headway in AL in developing essential leadership skills such managing, supervising, and developing subordinates,  or in managing one’s own career management.  Consider providing individual coaching for participants to develop the more personal and day-to-day challenges that don’t really fall within the scope of typical AL process.
  4. Add other experiential learning components such as organizational simulations that provide complementary learning opportunities. One of the great strengths of AL is that each participant can focus on the leadership skills that they believes are most important to their development. For this reason, AL isn’t a good choice if the organization wants everyone on the team to work on a specific skill, such as organizational collaboration. Furthermore, building a solution that incorporates collaboration is a different process from actually acting collaboratively. Organizational simulations, however, can be purposely designed to require participant collaboration in order for the individual and team to be successful. Including an organizational simulation that requires collaboration can be an excellent way to prompt actual collaboration during a subsequent AL process.
  5. Use AL as a “capstone” experience with the LD process. AL is a great way to build upon the learning achieved in earlier components of the LD program (see point 1). It also greatly reduces the pressure from team members on the AL coach to provide input and direction when the team faces complex issues and challenges. Furthermore, the AL coach can confidently call upon team members to access what they have learned earlier in the program by asking simple questions such as, “Does anyone know anything about (specific process issue)?”
  6. Push strongly for evaluation of individual or organizational change at the end of the program. Basing program evaluation primarily upon participant ratings of instructors and program elements provides (“happy face” ratings) subjective ratings of enjoyment and learning rather than the more important impact on the organization. It is very feasible to conduct assessments on the return on investment (ROI) for AL. This gives AL a great advantage over other developmental processes when demonstrating its value.  Furthermore,  these data can be very useful in demonstrating the value of the AL and the LD process to future cohorts of hi-potentials participants.

Applying these practices when integrating AL into a larger LD process can dramatically improve the chances of the program’s success. Please click this link if you would like to see an example of how AL can be successfully combined with a variety of other LD methods.

Please share comments, reactions, and personal experiences related to this topic.

Skipton Leonard PhD

Master Action Learning Coach

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